Osborne’s regrets over losing the fight to remain in EU

#Brexit special section In the media

Former Chancellor George Osborne has admitted that he has ‘regrets’ about the way the campaign to remain in the EU was conducted prior to the 2016 referendum.

He also told BBC Newsnight that mistakes were made which contributed to victory for Brexit supporters.

Mr Osborne was one of the key figures in the Remain faction in 2016, but admitted that tactical errors contributed to their defeat.

He said the Government led by David Cameron left it too late before finally starting to emphasise the benefits of EU membership.

Setting immigration targets that could not be delivered was another blunder that played into the hands of the Leave campaign, he told host Evan Davis.

Mr Osborne said the government did not sell the value of immigration and allowed leaving the EU to be linked with ‘taking back control’ of our borders.

He added that this played into the Leave campaign’s hands and allowing national sovereignty to be linked to immigration control was “pretty lethal.”

“We were wrong to play into the debate that everything that Brussels did was a challenge and a battle and was wrong,” he added.

Prime Minister David Cameron called the referendum after trying to agree a deal with the EU on tighter immigration.

The Government had consistently failed to hit its own net migration target, set at less than 100,000 a year by then Home Secretary Theresa May.

Mr Osborne, Chancellor from 2010 to 2016, says he was against the idea but went on to play a high-profile role in the Remain campaign in support of the Prime Minister.

He warned voters about potential job losses, tax rises and an economic crash if Britain left the EU, but these were dismissed as ‘Project Fear’ by opponents.

Mr Osborne told Newsnight: “On immigration we were promising targets we couldn’t deliver.

“That then led to a debate about how you might deliver those targets – not that I see any evidence that they’re going to be delivered in the future.

“But, you know, we definitely contributed to that argument, didn’t make enough of the value of immigration. So, I’m happy to look at mistakes we made.”

He said other regrets included not concentrating more rapidly on repairing the UK’s banking system after the 2008 crash.

But the subsequent austerity policies he introduced did not encourage people to vote for Brexit, he said.

Mr Osborne was attacked over his austerity policies on the programme by Polly Toynbee, a columnist for The Guardian, who said he had “done such harm and damage to this country”.

Theresa May sacked him as Chancellor when she took over from David Cameron as Prime Minister in 2016 after the referendum.

He went on to take up a number of private sector posts, the most high-profile of them as editor of London’s Evening Standard newspaper.

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